What would happen if you formed your impression of a city’s culinary offerings by the restaurants in the airport? Most of the time you’d never leave the terminal—you’d choose to take the next plane out.
The local airports certainly aren’t going to win any prizes for edible food. The worst is Fort Lauderdale, a panorama of Dunkin’ Donuts, Nathan’s, Chili’s and sports bars serving the ubiquitous Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio (the true eighth circle of hell). For all the talk about Miami being a multicultural and sophisticated place, MIA is not much better; numerous times, I’ve waited for international flights surrounded by nothing but Pizza Hut and Burger King. PBI is the best of the group, but unfortunately has the least traffic.
I’ve done a fair amount of domestic travel this summer, primarily to do research for a book which will be published next year. Since US Airways is my airline of choice, I invariably find myself connecting through Charlotte, which is a delight. True, there’s a food court with the likes of Quizno’s and Sbarro, but there’s also a full-service sushi bar in the central atrium—flooded with natural light, surrounded by a perimeter of comfortable rocking chairs, and serenaded by live piano music. There’s also a branch of Phillips Famous Seafood serving Chesapeake Bay delicacies, a Wolfgang Puck Café, two upscale Mexican restaurants, and a deli making overstuffed sandwiches to order.
Obviously, busy airports have to cater to a wide swath of humanity, and some fast food franchises are necessary. But what about the rest of us, those impossibly finicky individuals who refuse to succumb to the tyranny of the fried chicken conspiracy? The reality is that concessions represent a large chunk of airport revenues, along with parking and airline fees. Cities that are unwilling to elevate their airport food offerings are leaving money on the plastic tables of the fast food joints.